What started as an awareness raising and ethnographic styled walk through Sierra Leone, this site now details the encounters of a not so academic academic who spends more time occupying Wall Street and squats than a university...

Friday, May 25, 2012

Sustainable Occupy

This is a project that the think tank will be undertaking and that I will be a big part of.

Sustainable Occupy Research Project Concept Draft

The Occupy Wall St. Think Tank will be undertaking an in-depth research and solution oriented study aimed at compiling, assessing, and creating sustainable models for the Occupy movement to work with moving forward. In its initial stages Occupy was an amazing systemic critique and protest of the current socio-economic climate via both dialog and message and through a prefigurative social apparatus diagramming another way of organizing social interaction. However, upon losing Liberty park the movement was forced into transition and to undergo change on many levels. Throughout the initial stages of the occupation, numerous individuals came to the park and were afforded the ability to sustain their lives through the community there while working towards the movement’s and their own activist goals. Since the eviction of the park, many people have been forced to scramble independently for their own livelihoods, leaving their capacity to engage within the Occupy movement more tenuous. There are a tremendous number of people that have “fallen off the edges” as they had to get jobs, moved back out of the city, or simply have not been able to handle the lack of cohesion and/or transitional nature of the movement’s current situation. We need to not only find a way to bring these people back, but to generate a sustainable pathway forward for the people willing to become full time activists. This would allow the movement itself to stably maintain and promote itself and also be more coherent and welcoming to new individuals and groups.

Obviously, the need for a public space and a nostalgia for the consistent visible protest has been evident through the numerous, yet often ill conceived, attempts at reoccupation since the original eviction. I think most people within the movement are interested in consistency, a stable work space, as well as a location from which to expand the movement as it moves forward. How this is to be done though is the key question. Yes, there has been talk of this from the very beginning of the occupation. There are countless groups and individuals that have spent a great deal of time trying to find spaces/buildings, create revenue, get donations, feed and house individuals, etc. But they are not still working directly on this to my knowledge. The movement turned to more single day actions, organizing individuals, and focusing on singular issues since the turn of the year. We are planning good direct actions, yet to me, there is not enough work on outreach/base building and on creating a sustainable future. I am certain that this is not due to lack of will, but lack of time and stability for those deeply involved in the movement.

What we are proposing right now is to bring together a group of people to create a researc project that will lead to an exhaustible investigation and understanding of the context, factors, and history of the options available to move forward with The outcome would then be possible comprehensive suggestions at ways forward for both the movement and everyone invovled. What the think tank hopes to achieve in methodology and practice is a synthesis of Occupy styled horizontality and open mindedness, and social science research methodology. But this will be solution driven as opposed to simply research. We will be creating sustainable ways forward for the movement and its individuals. What these will be we do not yet know, nor is this about testing hypothesis or existing models through research. It is about finding several possible solutions amidst the sea of ideas, opinions, and solutions that people have previously come to the table with and/or exist in the world (from Brazil’s landless movement, to coops in park slope). We plan to bring together one large network of individuals and ideas and focus them on answer the very specific question: How does Occupy create a sustainable way forward that allows it to meet its activist’s basic needs, allows for the expansion and dissemination of its ideas and messages, and establishes exemplary and prefigurative models of social engagement while stably existing throughout the transitional process of change as society transforms to a more idealic social composition (or while simultaneously providing a relatively stable transitional process for itself as society transforms to a more idealic social composition, or…). This question would be the first thing to be addressed by the research unit. What does it mean to move forward and what is the question we need to answer.

For illustration purposes only, I will sketch a possible scenario, but I would advise anyone reading this to look beyond the illustration and to the questions that they are trying to address: We live in a capitalist world were certain parameters are necessary for stable involvement WITHIN the system. Housing, food, interaction and communication, all require things to obtain them – relationships, money, jobs, etc. We need to find an alternative way to structure our lives, while at the same time engaging with the old way enough to transition to something new. Inhabiting the gray areas. The research needs to be open, allowing every possible option on the table, and to methodically dismiss and add things through our principled research.

Sample concept:
Imagine if ten years from now Occupy controlled an old hotel structure in Brooklyn that it had fixed up, and was housing several hundred individuals, office and meeting spaces, and allowed itself the ability to sustain and feed both the facility and its people. That the location was a local hub in a national and global network of prefigurative Occupy principled entities that supported both the facility and the larger network through multiple ways such as revenue generation and also showed the general public a different way of producing goods and interacting with the economy. This network would be made up of many different hubs and entities bringing in revenue streams ranging from fundraising to guild-like entities to hybrid styled non-profit companies to perhaps something new. The housing situation would be cooperative and communal in some way shape or form and allocated and maintained by horizontal principles. The entire facility would function as a launching point for the movement’s ideas, work, messaging, etc.

Sample revenue generating entity:
Perhaps “Choccupy” is a full part of this network and sells chocolates and deserts (sale or donation) to the general public in a non-profit cooperative structure. It works from either the hotel structure’s industrial kitchen or from another production facility within the network. It produces chocolates and then sells them vendor and retail style throughout the city. It also maintains locations and relationships throughout the country for recipe sharing and localized production and distribution. All materials and ingredients are ethically sourced, as local as possible, and using principled methods akin to Occupy’s values such as GMO free, non-expropriative labor practices, economically and socially just, etc. Revenue would come in either through sales or donations, and would be used to maintain itself, its facilities, and occupiers. It would be run, managed, and controlled by a cooperative styled entity made up of a number of individuals working horizontally, with all proceeds going directly back into the entity/facility and the movement and its goals. It also could be an affiliate endeavor, meaning it gives a certain amount or percentage of its proceeds to Occupy (or however it is that this arrangement is set up).

The goal would be to construct a prospective structure of autonomous affiliate entities (and locales) that met certain requirements to be a part of the network. They would work together, be horizontal, local, and work for the movement. These revenue generating entities would allow for individuals to work and to collectively show prefigurative ways of life. These entities could come in many shapes or forms based on the research and local initiative: services, retail, cofftea shops, production, agriculture, whatever. Anyway that individuals, businesses, or new entities felt they could structure society and socio-economic interaction amongst themselves, for sale for barter, for donation… Whatever could fit in the mind – a localized conglomerate cooperative fair/trade model with a horizontal leadership structure. How knows!

Sample housing entity:
Could be set up cooperatively as seen to best fit by the research and Occupy principles. There would obviously be a million questions about access, and decision making – tough questions that would get into gray areas about the movement’s inclusivity – but that would be the purpose of the research study, to thoroughly research and find multiple options that could work. The principle goal could be to find a way that say 200 people could live together in a multiple occupancy structure and wake up in the morning and get to work together. Communally spending time on maintaining the housing situation, on revenue generation, and on broadening and working for the movement. All equally shouldered by individual’s both living and not living there. How this would be done and structured would all be part of the research outcome. Just as how the space would be obtained. Squating perhaps is the first thing to come to mind, but is that viable? Wouldn’t the NYPD shut it down straight away? So a lengthy research into legal issues and structures would be order for ways to allow stability on a legal level.

While those are just a few sample concepts to stir the imagination, whatever structures and entities emerge, the purpose of them would be to provide stable spaces from which Occupy would organize and structure its messages and actions. This would allow more consistent and concerted targeting of specific issues and actions with a more transparent, inclusive, and cohesive structural point of origin. In my opinion it is only from a stable foundation that we can have the security to go to work each day and be as productive as possible in working towards changing the world – both as a prefigurative message of protest and as an information generating and disseminating awareness machine.

On the whole: there are countless issues to address and research here, many of which wouldn’t be known until the research showed them. The economics of anything of this sort would be incredibly complex. Where do you get a building from? Donation, lease, friendly lease and if so, how do you cover the costs of getting it, maintaining it? How do you start up those business like entities? They require start up funds, management expertise, planning, etc. Horizontal housing structures? We’ve tried that… how can it work? How has it worked? How is it that we could consense on the parameters of our principles? How big is that gray area that our collective principles will allow us to work within?

What we are talking about is planning to institute an entirely new socio-economic structure within the current one, under the watchful eye of capital and governmental forces bent on stopping us, within a horizontal consensus structure and movement, with little money, little time, and in our spare time. It is a HUGE undertaking that will take years and decades to see through. But this to me, is exactly what Occupy is about. This type of project would create structural alternatives for transition allowing Occupy to straddle mainstream socio-economic society and an alternative new pathway while maintaining the same activist and awareness raising work we are currently doing To find a legal way to maintain a space while creating a structure of interaction that was work-like and sustainable in a way that the general public could both respect and even desire. We could be laying the ground work for an alternative way forward while providing a stable place to do outreach, create media, do research, live, eat, etc.

And while yes, it seems daunting, sooooo much work has already been done. So many experiments and so much research has already been done both outside and inside Occupy. We just have to bring it together and find one or several practical usages and ways forward that we can contextually implement. This will again, not be easy. Most people would probably be quite reticent to give up their current lives and the “necessities” of it: individualism, ipods, cars, whatever. The process will have multiple levels and ways to allow individuals to partake in the transition (the project).

I would say this transition will take generations and require an entire new social construct. But it will be one that will have to happen through hard work on creating evolution on a revolutionary level as opposed to a singular revolt that could be seen to put something upon people as opposed to allowing them to come to it themselves. Mindsets takes generations to change collectively. We are on the right track.

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